The weather shone on the Raise the Rates’ Walk for Welfare Justice today, March 27. Over 75 people joined at least part of the 14.5 kilometre walk across Vancouver.
The journey started with over 40 people at a Rally at the Premier of BC, Christy Clark’s office in Point Grey. We then walked along Broadway to Commercial Drive, up Victoria Drive and along Kingsway and then to Joyce. The walk ended with a rally of over 50 people at the Leader of the Opposition, Adrian Dix’s office. Along the way there were quick soap box rallies at several main intersections. Thousands of flyers were given out and many people honked their horns in support or said well done to us on the streets.
Along the way we chanted:
· Tax the rich to feed the poor – raise welfare now
· Mend the social safety net – Raise welfare rates to!
· Welfare rights are workers rights! Migrant rights are workers rights
At the all the rallies people spoke movingly about the harm that poverty causes people, the struggles of surviving on $610 a month, of living on an inadequate diet and the struggles of raising children. Women are forced into survival sex work. People end up in poverty and on welfare because of misfortune – loss of their job, serious injury, physical and mental ill-health and escaping violence and abuse. Most people in BC live only a couple of pay cheques away from poverty.
“I haven’t walked this far in as long as I can remember but I’m a grandmother & I did it to raise welfare rate.” said Victoria Bull.
GwinGadlthAmetGoot (Herb Varley) remembered that “When I lost my job I had to wait 5 weeks for welfare so I lost all my savings & lost my home before welfare would help me. Need to end the 5 week wait so people don’t become homeless.”
“We need a welfare increase so we don’t have to sell sex to survive” stated LuLu B.
Harold Lavender explained that “the welfare system is punitive and that’s not just. We’re here against inequality and for justice.”
At each office Raise the Rates handed a letter to Christy Clark’s office and Adrian Dix. It pointed out that people cannot live a healthy
life on welfare. The Dietitians of Canada in their report, Cost of Eating in BC, 2011, point out that people on welfare would have to spend almost every cent they receive on food and still would not have a healthy basic diet. This assumes they spend nothing on clothing, looking for work or keeping clean. A single person on welfare really only has $26 a week for food and even a trained dietitian or chef cannot make the money stretch.
The BC government decides how many people will live in poverty by the decisions the MLAs make about welfare rates, minimum wage and low paid work. How can they justify a disability rate of $906 a month while Alberta has a rate of $1588 a month?
Poverty costs BC at least $8 billion a year, with over $1 billion in health costs alone. A strategy to end poverty would cost around $4 billion a year, so ending poverty in BC would save $4 billion a year. Yet politicians claim they cannot afford to end poverty – really we all cannot afford them not to act.
It is clear that most of the people of BC want action on poverty and with good reason. Compared to the rest of Canada, BC has the worst poverty, the worst inequality and has had the worst or 2nd worst record on child poverty for a decade. A recent opinion poll commissioned by the BC Healthy Living Alliance found that 78% of people support a provincial poverty reduction strategy and 75% support adjusting income assistance rates to account for the real cost of a nutritious diet and real market rental rates.
Several major city councils, including Victoria, Vancouver and Surrey have passed resolutions calling for action on poverty including the province to raise welfare rates.
Raise the Rates challenged both leaders to show really leadership and act to raise welfare and end poverty in BC.